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With kids back to school for a few weeks now, I know lots of moms are starting to think about finding healthy lunch ideas for kids. There are lots of great ideas out there, but I thought it would be fun to chat with a Registered Nutritionist and get the lowdown from an expert. Here I interview Paula Scromeda about back to school snacks, how they affect learning and healthy school lunch ideas for kids.
Paula, do you think the food kids eat at school affects their learning?
Absolutely. I think one of the biggest challenges with kids is to keep them focused on the task at hand. I find that even as an adult it’s hard to sit still for too long! Eliminating the distraction of being hungry (a major distraction if you ask me), is fundamental to setting kids up for success. We also want to do everything we can to keep kids blood sugar levels stable. If you’ve ever been to a kids birthday party and seen the effects of too many sweets on a group of kids (namely hyperactivity followed by exhaustion). You’ll know what I mean. A good balance of proteins, carbs and fats is the key. Also, use certain nutrients to your advantage! Magnesium has a calming effect (found in leafy vegetables, almonds, oatmeal). Also, adequate protein intake has been shown to improve mental clarity, concentration, memory
In that case, what do you think would be a good breakfast for kids to set them up for a day of hard work?
A good breakfast is one that delivers enough calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep kids going until their next meal. Many people (and parents) make the mistake of relying too much on quick-fix carbohydrates at breakfast (cereal, toast, fruit, fruit juice). Without adequate protein and fat, which deliver slower burning, lasting energy, this type of breakfast is not going to cut it. Some ideas for a long lasting breakfast:
-Switch out skim milk for greek yogurt
-Add nuts, seeds, nut butters, coconut oil, coconut milk (in smoothies)
-Throw some smoked salmon on that bagel
-Scramble an egg or two!
-Ensure that carbohydrates are as whole as possible (rye toast, steel-cut oats)
-Limit refined sugars that cause blood sugar to spike and crash.
A good rule of thumb is to set your kids up with at least 100 calories per hour. That means a 500 calorie breakfast, if you expect it to last until lunch time. If they’re having a morning snack, you can adjust for that.
And what about snacks and healthy lunch ideas for kids, are there particular food groups I should stick to?
Variety is key! The more varied your child’s diet, the better their chances are of being properly nourished. Include quality sources of the 3 macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrate) and try and squeeze some extra vitamins & minerals in where you can. For instance, bread is a carbohydrate, but so is an apple. An apple will deliver much more in terms of the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals & enzymes.) It will also be a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. In terms of protein, meat, legumes, nuts & seeds are all potentially good options. As always, aim for minimal processing. For example, diced roast chicken is a better choice than a pepperoni stick. Natural nut butter (the kind that has the oil on the top) is FAR better than kind with added salt, sugar, and hydrogenated fat.
Think seasonally! Apples are great in the fall and winter, but if raspberries are taking over your back yard, give them raspberries!
Of course most kids just love sweets and candy, but if these aren’t appropriate for a good diet, can you recommend any alternatives that will be tasty but nutritious?
Go crazy with homemade popsicles! Use blended fruit, yogurt, coconut milk, or even freeze your leftover smoothie mix. The best Popsicle idea I’ve seen lately is 1/3 banana, rolled in plain yogurt, then rolled in dark chocolate or chopped nuts. Freeze on a stick and you’ve got a great snack, or even a breakfast on the go. Kids love frozen food on a stick!
Any ideas about making food fun? Should we just stick to turning veggies into smiley faces?
The best way I know to make food fun for kids, is to immerse them in the preparation process with you! They may be too young for sharp knives and stovetops, but stirring, kneading, shucking corn, snapping asparagus and peas are all fair game. Most importantly, let them taste the food along the way. Let them help you with the creative process! We all know that kids can have very strong opinions about food, and their preferences often stem from issues of texture or consistency (slimy mushrooms) rather than flavour. You can learn a lot about their tastes by spending time with them in the kitchen.
*A friendly note from a parent in their lunchbox never hurts either!
Any good resources you recommend for healthy lunch ideas for kids? We’re always looking for inspiration.
There’s a blog called “never seconds” that documents school lunches all over the world from the perspective of a very bright 9 year old student. Along with lunch ideas, you may also gain some valuable insight into what makes a particular lunch more or less desirable to kids.
“Pinterest” is an amazing resource for ideas of all kinds. I just typed in “Healthy lunch ideas for kids” for the purposes of this interview, and instantly got bombarded with great ideas. I’ll warn readers that it is very addictive!
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